100 memories: Melbourne marathon

Editor's note: The tennis season now over, it's time to look back. Novak Djokovic was no doubt the player of the year, but there were many memories to savor. Beginning Dec. 12, Ravi Ubha unveils his top 100 memories of the 2011 season. Check back each weekday until Dec. 23 as we count down to No. 1.

20. Rafa disappears

Now you see him, now you don't.

Addressing reporters following a third-round win on a sticky day at the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal suddenly began experiencing leg cramps.

He slumped in his chair, stayed put for a while, then slithered under a desk that was in front of the chair.

Nadal is considered a warrior, so it was quite the unexpected sight.

"It's nothing important," a smiling Nadal later said. "I had that hundreds of times but not in the press conference. If that happened in the locker room, nobody knows nothing, and that's normal thing."

Indeed. Nadal reached the final.

19. Fed ends on high

Without a major for the first time in a calendar year since 2002, Roger Federer needed to end the campaign on a high.

That he did.

Federer carries a 17-match winning streak into 2012 after triumphing in the Davis Cup, Basel, Paris and London. His title at the year-end championships was his sixth, a men's record.

"It's one of my greatest accomplishments, an amazing finish again to the season," Federer said. "I've never finished on such a strong note."

Can people now stop questioning his motivation?

18. "Aussie" Kim wins Down Under

It was about time Kim Clijsters won a Grand Slam outside New York. And call it fitting that Melbourne was the venue.

Clijsters became a favorite, or even more of one, in Australia when she dated Aussie Lleyton Hewitt.

"I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim because I won the title," Clijsters told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena after topping Li Na in the final. "Even when things weren't going good, you guys were really supportive of me, and I really appreciate it."

Not always a great competitor -- see last year's loss in Melbourne to Nadia Petrova and this year's defeat to Arantxa Rus at Roland Garros -- Clijsters hung tough against Li, reversing a one-set deficit. Li overcame Clijsters two weeks earlier in Sydney.

17. Death of the "Rafa Slam"

It's easy to forget, given Novak Djokovic's season, that 12 months ago Nadal was on the verge of becoming the first man in 42 years to win four consecutive majors.

Nadal seemed doomed in his quest.

An early-January illness hurt Nadal heading into Melbourne, and it likely had something to do with the Spaniard picking up a hamstring injury against David Ferrer in a marathon second game of their quarterfinal.

Nadal refused to retire -- he did so against Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open -- but tamely lost in straight sets.

"We don't have luck here," Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, said. "We think that when he had the flu, he was more [susceptible] to getting hurt."

"This is one of the bad [moments], one of the negative moments," Rafael Nadal said. "I think I am very lucky sportsman about what's happened in my career. I have to accept the fantastic moments that I had during a lot of the years with the same calm when I have problems."

16. Revolt at the U.S. Open

Nadal wasn't so calm at the rain-affected U.S. Open.

Furious that organizers told him he had to play on a court that he felt was wet, Nadal snapped at tournament referee Brian Earley, "It's the same old story. All you think about is money."

Nadal, Murray and Andy Roddick marched into the referees' office later on the second Wednesday and let their feelings be known.

"We don't feel protected," Nadal said in a TV interview. "Grand Slams, they win a lot of money, and they are just working for that, not us. They are calling us on court, and it's still raining."

As a result of the players' anger, there is a chance for an off day for the men in between the semis and finals next year.

15. Fed inexplicably blows a two-set lead

Wimbledon has become slightly bittersweet for Federer.

Sure he's won at the All England Club on six occasions, but he also lost to Nadal in arguably the greatest match of all time in 2008. Then this season on the grass, Federer relinquished a two-set advantage at a Grand Slam -- he had been 178-0 -- for the first time.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a carefree personality who actually believes he can rally from such a deficit, was the man who pulled off the 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

"Kind of a strange feeling, because I did play well myself," Federer said. "I can't blame my poor returning or my poor serving or my poor movement or anything like that in this match, and that makes it a bit easier."

Tsonga upended Federer in Montreal two months later, although order was restored in the fall.

14. Djokovic's spring double

When Djokovic led Serbia to the Davis Cup title last year, it boosted his appetite for winning. Conquering Melbourne added to his confidence. But it was his back-to-back titles in Indian Wells and Miami that cemented his belief.

Never before had Djokovic topped Nadal in tour finals, yet he edged a pair of three-setters in California and Florida.

As their rivalry unfolded and Nadal kept losing, his postmatch handshakes became less warm.

13. Rafa recovers in Seville

Statistically, it wasn't a bad year for Nadal, as he suggested. He won the French Open and landed in the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

But there was a sense that he needed a lift heading into 2012, especially after his performance -- and admission of a loss of motivation -- at the World Tour Finals.

Nadal got the boost he needed, leading Spain to the Davis Cup title in December.

He clinched the series with an absorbing four-set, four-hour win over Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro at a pumping Olympic Stadium in Seville.

"It was the most amazing atmosphere I have ever played in," Nadal said.

The turning point? Del Potro dropping serve when he was up a set, a break and serving at 40-0 in the second.

He failed to serve out the fourth set, too.

12. Djokovic sizzles in Melbourne

Representing Serbia last December (Davis Cup) and this January (Hopman Cup) was the perfect tonic for Djokovic. He entered the Australian Open rife with confidence -- and didn't flinch.

Djokovic tore through the field, dropping one set (to Ivan Dodig). He downed Federer in a semifinal that wasn't as close as the set scores hinted. He then eased past Murray to finally snap a three-year Grand Slam drought, longer than most everyone had expected.

"I don't want to stop here," Djokovic said.

He sure didn't.

11. Heart of a lion

You could forgive Francesca Schiavone if she decided to take it easy after winning the French Open last year. Nearing 30 back then, she had every right to sit back and bask in the glory of her success.

But no, Schiavone hasn't eased up.

In fact, you get the feeling she has an even bigger point to prove -- that she's no fluke.

Schiavone had a solid Grand Slam season, saving her most courageous display for the fourth round of the Australian Open. Schiavone saved six match points and toppled Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in 4 hours, 44 minutes, the longest women's encounter in Grand Slam history.

"I hope one day to show this DVD to my son," said Schiavone, who is not a parent.

The third set alone lasted three hours.

"At some stage, I was like, 'What's the score?'" Kuznetsova said. "It was hard to count. I was like, 'Who is up? She or me?'"

It was ultimately Schiavone on a day where the term "loser" didn't befit Kuznetsova.